When the inaugural Lilongwe Jazz Festival (LJF) announced its plan to expose children to the music genre, some might have thought it was just about meeting some of the big names in jazz in Malawi.
Days before the event, one of the main headliners Owen Mbilizi declared that the festival will provide an opportunity to children to experience and learn the music genre.
“As a means of cultivating interest in jazz as a genre as well as nurturing it, I and other artists will have sessions with children that will turn up on Saturday [September 1]. We will talk about the music and the mathematics of jazz.
“Again, to make the programme more exciting to the children, there will be performances by youngsters from two schools as well as the Music Crossroads Academy. Aside that, me and other artists, we will spend time with the children that will turn up on this particular day,” he said then.
Added Mbilizi: “We are planning on having the jazz event annually; hence, involving youngsters’ so that we cultivate their interest while they also learn from our mistakes.”
In as far as children were concerned the highlight of the event was performance by eight-year-old Joshua.
While it did not come as a surprise for some as he is the son of ethnomusicologist Waliko Makhala, his trumpet blowing prowess was beyond imagination.
For a long time, jazz has not gotten the limelight in Malawi despite being a rich genre with a number of local artists boasting of skills in both vocals and instrumentation among others.
But those that watched the lad will recollect with fond memories of Joshua’s magical horn and its sounds. And that is not happenstance.
He is well versed with various styles, such that what comes out of this trumpet is a fusion of jazz, blending contemporary music and folklore while impressively telling a true African story.
So how did it all begun?
“He has been playing de trumpet for two years on stage having picked it up at age six,” says Makhala.
Joshua plays the trumpet in a distinctive, impressive and effective manner such that it stood out among the myriad of local instruments.
His trumpet tone is different but accessible with such an interesting storytelling style as well as lyrical instrumentalism.
His horn was no less beautiful that night such that some fans murmured in awe as how he got it so right at such a young age.
“It is a difficult instrument and took everyone by surprise when he improvised on the songs. So l was equally stunned and supported him with a bit of music reading so that he should be able to play both by sight and oral.
“He plays percussions which he initially started with the band. He will pick the other instruments as he grows up as hopefully, he has an advantage of growing with music in our home,” explains the father.
As Joshua went on with the performance, with an innocent look on his face and as he softly blew the horn—almost his size—a smooth voice pirouetted with the horn into the air.
The surprise was not over, not just yet. Joshua swayed into a rhythm, casting a flash on the audience.
Some of those seated stood up in applause, with the concert becoming a shared experience of raucous cheers, handclapping and dancing.
“We normally jam together apart from the normal band practice. He joins us only during school holidays so as not to affect his studies. Aside, we have some published songs that he practices and a part time trainer,” says Makhala, who apart from music, he is also a television producer.
Off stage, Joshua is different from the little beast that a few minutes ago people had just witnessed.
Full of innocence, it would not be far from the truth for football fans to equate Chelsea’s defensive midfielder, N’golo Kante. He is a simple man in appearance, but shy dynamite on the field of play.
“Thank you,” was all he said when complimented for a good show, before facing down.
For now, Joshua is his father’s right hand man doing shows together.
His brothers are also into music, abroad.
“His brothers are also professional musicians and producers based in South Africa now,” he explained.
Makhala’s parting shot is a word of advice to fellow parents: “Parents have an obligation to nurture talent at a tender age. Who knows it may be the children’s livelihood in future. Talent is a terrible thing to waste. Parents must not discourage children in all artistic and sports endeavours.
Gone are days when talent was not valued.